Did you know that protein is a vital part of every tissue, cell and organ in your body?
It is a primary component of our muscles, bones, hair, nails, skin, eyes, and internal organs; especially the heart. Many people are aware that protein is found in animal-based foods. However, protein is also found in other sources, important for vegetarians and others who cannot or will not eat animal-based foods.
Making healthy protein choices and not over-eating protein is important for many reasons, including the decreased consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that 10 to 15 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from a source of protein.
What is Protein?
In terms of the human diet, protein is necessary for the growth and repair of tissues. Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids connected by peptide bonds. They vary in shape according to the function they serve and their location in the body. Proteins are especially important in the function of muscles and in the production of hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells.
Animal-Based Protein – Proteins are commonly found in animal-based foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs as well as milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese. Such proteins are called complete proteins. This is because these proteins supply all the amino acids which are believed to be essential to the human diet. These proteins are also known as high-quality proteins.
Plant-Based Protein – Proteins can be found in plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, rice and soy products. Many plant-based proteins are called incomplete proteins because they are lacking in one or more essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are proteins which, when consumed within the same day, provide adequate amounts of all essential amino acids. For instance, rice and dry beans are viewed a complementary proteins.
High-Protein Weight-Loss Diets – High-protein diets such as the Atkins diet gained a great deal of popularity during the end of the 20th century. These diets were touted as a means for people to lose weight rapidly without feeling hungry. Such diets encouraged the consumption of protein and fat and the exclusion of carbohydrates.
While many people did achieve weight loss through such diets, there was also controversy over the effects on cholesterol levels, implicated in heart attacks and strokes. Eating too much protein from meat can also cause gout and kidney problems.
Protein’s Role in Muscle Building – In addition to all of the ways protein benefits the body it also is a large component in muscle. An intense work out will break down the muscles used and consuming foods that are high in protein after the workout will ensure that the muscles recover. It is important to note that consuming large amounts of protein will not automatically build muscle. Exercise is necessary to form muscle.
A nutritionally balanced diet provides adequate protein. Protein supplements are rarely needed by healthy people. Vegetarians are able to get adequate amounts of essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant proteins. The amount of recommended daily protein depends upon your age and health. Two to three servings of protein-rich food will meet the daily needs of most adults. The following are the recommended serving sizes for protein:
- 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (a portion about the size of a deck of playing cards)
- 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans
- 1 egg, or 2 egg whites if you are watching cholesterol, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1 ounce of cheese
Select lean meat, poultry without skin, fish, dried beans, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products often. These are the protein choices that are the lowest in fat.